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The extraordinary tale of a monarch who is above the law

Matthew Scott discusses the recent ruling in the Family Division of the Royal Courts of Justice against Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum, Emir of Dubai

March 14, 2020 - 7:00am

This weekend’s long read pick comes courtesy of Matthew Scott’s award-winning Barrister Blog, where he discusses the recent ruling in the Family Division of the Royal Courts of Justice against Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum, Emir of Dubai.

The article recounts, in Scott’s careful and lawyerly writing, a story so lurid it feels plucked from a pulp fiction novel. Sheikh Mohammed initiated proceedings against his wife Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, for — so claims the sheikh — ‘abducting’ two of their children from Dubai and bringing them to England. Princess Haya, on the other hand, claimed that the sheikh planned to force one of the children, 12-year-old Jalila, to marry the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.

One of the Sheikh’s own lawyers, Lord Pannick, “perhaps horrified at the can of noxious writhing worms that the litigation threatened to open up”, suggested measures that would have protected the emir from the full details of the case being examined. However Sheikh Mohammed declined, also refusing to submit himself for cross-examination and instructing his own legal team that they should also take no part in the hearing.

The resulting clash of worlds — that of the scrupulous Anglophone rule of law on the one hand, and of an incalculably wealthy absolutist monarch who views his offspring as property on the other — unfolds an astonishing story in language almost comically understated.

One daughter, Shamsa, was taken from England by the sheikh’s employees, who she claims were armed, and injected her with a sedative. Another daughter, Latifa, was dragged screaming by Indian special forces from a yacht on which she was attempting an escape planned for over seven years.

Despite the outrages visited on these women, which the court found likely to be true, evidence points to direct intervention by the Foreign Office to prevent further police investigation into the allegations. Even in the UK, a country famous for adherence to the rule of law, we thus see that pragmatic political limits exist to its application:

Sheikh Mohammed is Vice-President of the UAE, Prime Minister (Head of Government) of the UAE and Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai. As such he is, protected by various sovereign or diplomatic immunities. […] Were he not so protected his next trip to Newmarket could be marred by his arrest on suspicion of a number of extremely serious offences including conspiracy to kidnap Shamsa, and piracy in relation to Latifa’s abduction off the coast of India.
- Matthew Scott, Barrister Blog

So far, it appears that the only sanction administered by the British legal system against Sheikh Mohammed has been a refusal by the Queen to be photographed with him.

Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.


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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago

I don’t find it ‘extraordinary’ that he is above the law, even in the UK. We all know that such people are ‘above the law’, just at BAE were ‘above the law’ when bribing the Saudis around arms deals etc. As I have said for many years, the UK is as corrupt, in its own way, as any country you care to name.

4 years ago

Scary….Raises many issues…
Who falls into this class?
Should there be preferential treatment?
Should it include immunity from the law?
Who’s law?
There is a simple answer to all of the above?